Among the physical, tenacious battle between West Ham and Manchester United on Wednesday, one player played the game at his own pace, controlling the midfield and oozing class: Michael Carrick.
The 31-year-old, who is enjoying the finest season of his career at Old Trafford, is a huge talking point in England at the moment. Some feel he is vastly overrated and a player who can do the simple stuff and not much else; others feel completely the opposite, feeling his importance to the United side goes unnoticed by many people.
Once thing is for sure, there will have been some proud faces in the crowd and among some of the staff at Upton Park on Wednesday, seeing how far their former player has come over the years.
Way back in 1997 Carrick won the Youth Cup with West Ham as a 15-year-old. That side featured a stunning array of young talent inlcuding Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, and great things were expected of them all. They haven’t disappointed.
Carrick had become a firm fixture in West Ham’s team by the early 00s despite still only being in his late teens and early 20s, and it wasn’t too long before a battle for his signature emerged.
In 2004 he signed for Tottenham for a fee of $5.3m/£3.5m, and after a slow start to life at White Hart Lane he became an integral part of the starting lineup under Martin Jol.
At the end of the 2005/06 season there were plenty of rumours suggesting Carrick would join United in time for the new season. The rumours were valid, and after Tottenham rejected an initial bid for the midfielder they eventually agreed a deal in the region of $27m/£18m, with Sir Alex Ferguson seeing Carrick as the ideal replacement for their former captain Roy Keane.
In his first six years at Old Trafford he had many admirers and also many detractors, but this season feels like his game has gone up a level. Where previously he was quite a regular starter but played the support act to stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, he has now become one of the most noticeable players in the side. Only Robin Van Persie can claim to have been as influential this season for the soon-to-be Premier League champions.
Many supporters, particularly those of the United persuasion, feel he now has to be a regular in the England team, believing his ability to keep possession would be invaluable to a side constantly incapable of doing just that.
He’s not getting any younger and doesn’t represent the future, but a midfield trio of Carrick, captain Steven Gerrard and young prodigy Jack Wilshere should be their first-choice midfield from now up until the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
One thing is for sure, Michael Carrick has now officially lived up to the hype surrounding him back in 1997.